All paths lead to Maastricht

I spent my final week in Europe in the city I love best with the people I love most - Maastricht. Eight exchangers planned to meet back in Maastricht after our individual summers of backpacking. Most of us had intercepted paths once or twice along the way - but everyone came back to Maastricht with stories to share. I came rolling into Maastricht after an overnight stop in Cologne, Germany:   We all meet by the Maas Lake and spent our first afternoon outside in the sun cheering as each new face made it to our meeting spot. Over mint lemonade and stroopwaffles we laughed, cried, and lived through the adventures of each other. Pat rocked up with painted toes: Pat's blue toenails are Read more

Alternative Culture with Berliners

Traveling solo is the least lonely way to travel. With each new city come new faces, new friends, and new adventures. In Budapest I met Cassy and Mitch form Australia. Then, I ran into them in Prague. In both cities, we had a wonderful time and decided to meet up in Berlin. Around 4am we met a group of Berliners and decided to all take our photo in a photoautomat - an outdoor photo booth popular throughout Berlin. Six people in a small photoautomat, especially when one person is approaching 7ft tall, proved impossible. Instead, we opted for a photo with the photoautomat. At 4am, you never expect plans to actually happen (or even be remembered) but partly out of politeness Read more

Returning to Berlin

I've said it before in my Paris v. Berlin post, and I'll say it again. To travel to Berlin is to be inspired - creative minds flock to Berlin. I made sure to again return to Berlin and explore all the history, innovation, and art in every form. Everyone, from every walk of life, can be found on the streets of Berlin. The sidewalks are shared by blue-haired punk-rockers, young German yuppies in suits, dreadlocks, piercings, covered in tattoos, the elderly in grayscale simple clothes, fashionistas, big thick framed glasses. It is an organic city – filled with thinkers and alive with new opportunities. Berlin is a city in transition, a city regaining an identity after its long, turbulent history. Read more

Czech out Prague

The day I arrived to Prague happened to be the same day a major heat wave engulfed the city. With relentless high temperatures and air conditioning but a luxurious dream, shade and cool places became the main tourist attractions. I chose my hostel based solely on its name - Czech Inn. The most clever punny hostel name of all hostels to ever exist! After booking the hostel, I discovered that it is considered one of the finest hostels in all of Europe. Indeed, upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised by the upscale bar area, luxury showers, and overall trendiness of the accommodation. Though, no air-conditioning. On my first day I planned a big walking trip of the city but could only Read more

Caving in Budapest

Budapest - the city of caves, stalagmites and hotsprings! After a big night out in Budapest I ambitiously started my day early and took a long walk through Heroes Square, the museum area and Central Park as well as to the Opera House and a second hand book store. I was exhausted by the time I arrived back to the hostel mid-afternoon. My intention was to take the rest of the day easy, which was really an unrealistic luxury at my particular hostel. Every hostel has a unique culture, and my hostel in Budapest (Carpe Noctem Vitae - highly recommend!) was all about having a good time. So, instead of relaxing, I found myself on a bus on the way to a cave. Myself, Read more

Budapest Thermal Baths and Ruin Bars

There are bits of travel books that I simply skim over, some parts I skip entirely, and some that I circle, highlight and sometimes even accidentally break the book spine by reading that page so many times.  The section on Budapest Thermal baths had coffee stains and crinkled pages because it was this section that I poured over when reading about Budapest. Budapest is known as the 'City of Spas' and this reputation dates back to the 16th century with the Turks constructed public baths throughout Budapest and other parts of Hungary. These baths are built over hot springs that bring mineral rich waters into the pools. Many Hungarians believe that these waters have medicinal powers to help ailment such Read more

Mizzou Collides with Budapest

Traveling long-term includes a conscious decision to push through exhaustion and continue forward with exploration, socializing and general traveling fun. When on short-term trips, you have the capacity and energy to travel 100% all day every day because you know that you can crash when you get home. Long-term travel is a different case - and I figured that out on my eighth day in Bulgaria. Besides my illness in Spain, I sacrificed no moment to sleep in or to excessively relax. Yes, I maximized my time in each location. But also, yes, I wore myself out. I had to spend a full day sleeping at Dilyana's apartment to recuperate. The next night I caught a night train back to Read more

Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria

Dilyana said that the "spirit of Bulgaria" can be found in the small town of Koprivshtitsa located in the Sredna Mountains. The town was the center of the April Uprising in 1876 in which the Bulgarians carried out an insurrection against the Ottoman Empire. This time period is known as the Bulgarian National Revival, and Koprivshtitsa was the center of it all. The town now represents traditional Bulgarian architecture, way of life, and is the home to many monumental works of art and culture. The boy with us is Dilyana's friend, Gueorg, who is now a member of the European Commission. I had the privilege of helping him edit his English cover letter that he then used to be hired! He Read more

The Black Sea: Nessebar

  The city of Nessebar dates back 3,000 years ago with architecture reflecting the many different masks the city wore over the centuries. It is a UNESCO world heritage site.  Charming, traditional and serene - Nessebar earned a big heart around its dot on my tattered travel map. For my journey around Europe I hardly spent anytime shopping besides looking for one, elusive item: an apron. My mom's birthday was to take place while I was abroad and with her recent gluten-free cooking hobby, she had requested an apron for her birthday. First off, an apron might be one of the most difficult items to explain to shop owners with broken English and I with very limited foreign language skills. Second of all, Read more

Madrid

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I spent only one day in Madrid on my way to Pamplona to meet up with my friend Theresa. I saw the sites, enjoyed the Prado, relaxed at the Buen Retiro. It was fun walking around Madrid and even finding the movie theater where my Mom, thirty years ago, watched The Godfather on her birthday. I found a fantastic avenue with outdoor book sellers that I scoured over for books in English and talking with shop owners. Finally, the perfect book appeared: The Wizard of Oz. I’ve only seen the movie, never read the book, but it proved to be the perfect novel to read for my short train ride to Pamplona.

This is a short post on Madrid since I was only there for a day, but besides the sites that your guide books will direct you to – the botanical gardens are worth a stop! I traveled Madrid mostly on my own because I stayed at a hostel that, unfortunately, was not conducive to making friends. This wasn’t entirely the fault of the hostel for there was a community kitchen, but rather the hostelers that were there. It was a disappointing place to stay where people did not embrace the concept of hosteling and this bad experience with my hostel in Madrid prompted me to write an ode to the responsibility of a hosteler that you can read here.

I ended up staying a little longer in Madrid than anticipated because I didn’t make my 3pm train. I arrived to the station an hour early, found the lines very long to buy tickets and at 2:45 I paid a student 5 euros to trade numbers with me so I could buy my ticket. I ended up making it up to the ticket window with minutes to spare – only to hear that the 3pm was sold out and I needed to wait for the 6pm. Luckily, I was in Spain, and Theresa and I were still able to enjoy the night catching up since the Spanish night goes very late.

This is the one photo from Madrid that I’d like to share:

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 Cheers to lifelong friends and catching up on gossip about the grandkids!

Sevilla

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There is a saying that the worst fate a man can have is to be blind in Granada. I’d like to add another unfortunate fate: to have no appetite for food in Sevilla. I arrived to Sevilla mid-siesta and wasn’t feeling my best, especially in the heat. After no food for nearly 36 hours, vomiting, in general having a mal cuerpo it is a huge testament to the receptionist at the hostel that I enjoyed check-in. From the second I arrived to The Garden Inn Hostel in Sevilla I knew I was in for a good time. Some hostels have that charm. This hostel also had free sangria.

I was supposed to meet up with my friend Peter the day before, but illness leads to tardiness so I was a day late to see him. He greeted me at the reception desk and the receptionist started singing the worst, most off key version of Happy Birthday after I told her it was his birthday. There is never a pleasant sounding Happy Birthday song,  but her rendition was one of the most hysterically terrible but endering Happy Birthday greetings I’ve ever heard.

Peter and I headed out for tapas as he was hungry and I realized that I should be hungry. My stomach wasn’t able to handle the food but it was able to handle a beer – progress and priorities but gosh did those tapas look good! We had a great lunch catching up, laughing about the people we met on exchange, sharing travel stories and discussing our future travel plans.

We the split ways and I headed to the Alcázar to catch the once a month free hour of entry (lucky timing!) then went back to the hostel because it was way too hot to function. My tour through Alcázar can be described as “shade hopping” and admiring the structures from under trees, roofs, anything that could provide some kind of relief from the heat.

My favorite photo from the Alcázar – even the birds needed to hang out by water to stay cool!

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Back at the hostel, Peter and I sat outside and enjoyed the free sangria with other guests. Not only was the hostel a charming place to stay, but we also hit a jackpot with the other guests staying there. We sat at a table from 8pm to 11:45 laughing and chatting with everyone – Australia, Sweden, Malaysia, California, Canada, England, France were the nations sipping on sangria.

Hostel recommendation: The Garden Backpacker Sevilla 

The boy from Sweden, David, had been at the other hostel with me in Granada. I thought I had left behind the embarrassing puking reputation in Granada, but sure enough David came strolling in with a smirk, finger point and somewhat sympathetic eyes when he saw me. Despite throwing my face in my hands in embarrassment, I was extremely happy to see him. We had a great conversation at the other hostel, but it was way too short and I was regretful that I had not asked him for book recommendations. Its so great when travel reconnects people again!

Our crew headed out to the town around midnight for another round of tapas and some parties. I had the best spanish in the group so I did all the ordering, and had so much fun with it. After tapas, I was also able to order Peter a slice of birthday cake. I asked for a “postre” which I remembered was either “sandwich” or “cake” so it was a huge relief when the cake was handed to him. Would’ve been awkward to sing Happy Birthday over a sandwich.

This is when our night turns hysterical – David had met a girl who recommended a really underground club in Sevilla. She said it might be shut down because of issues with the police, but we were still determined to check it out. Steve Jobs assisted us with navigating down the winding roads of Sevilla until we finally hit the street. Our next clue from David: “Its near a post office bin”.

We found a post office bin then headed down the dark alleyway, all laughing at how ridiculous the location was. We reached the back and nearly gave up when Peter told everyone to be silent: sure enough, we could hear the pounding bass of club music.

Excited, we walked around front again trying to find the hidden door to enter. I pushed open one door, and we all slowly entered. I somehow ended up in front because I spoke spanish, so I lead us up the neon lighted staircase towards the secret club. We were a group of 7 goofy dressed, semi-dirty backpackers giggling up a neon staircase. At the top, I was surprised to nearly walk into a private living room.

I absolutely lost it and started laughing, as did Peter who was right behind me. We all retreated but the owner of the living room came out laughing at us. He told us that we were in the right place, was really curious how we found out about the club, then explained that there was no party tonight. A massive man then stepped out behind the man, and though all our interactions were friendly, we decided it was time to go.

Outside, we discussed what just happened and congratulated ourselves for finding the secret club. Though, because we heard the music, I do have the theory that there was, in fact, a party – and our group just didn’t make the cut to enter. Regardless of the party/no party debate, we had a hilarious time finding the club.

My second day in Sevilla started very early with a walk around the neighborhood surrounding my hostel. I then met up with a free walking tour that ended up taking 4 hours (though it was advertised as 2). Our tour guide was hilarious and knowledgeable, and it was a relatively small group. We were all able to introduce ourselves and I really enjoyed the company of the group plus the knowledge from the guide Medi. Sevilla is filled with years of history on history on history – one of the oldest cities in Europe.

Small details on the tour struck me as particularly interesting. Cathedrals in Sevilla are an odd mix of moorish and baroque architecture. It was fascinating to see arabic ceramic designs inside cathedrals.

After the tour about half the group went out to lunch together, and the table I was at strategically ordered community style tapas. We absolutely feasted, and this was my first meal with my appetite back and one of my favorite meals of all time. For the rest of the day I hung out with people I met on the tour, continued exploring the city, then stayed up late into the night talking on the hostel terrace.

Estoy Enferma en Granada

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From Barcelona Sans I caught a night train to Granada. Saying goodbye to everyone was easy because my head was focused on not missing my train, but once I loaded my backpack and pulled back the train bed sheets – I realized I was alone. Three other girls later joined me in the train berth 55 but the company of strangers isn’t an air of comfort like the company of friends. As the train lunged forward and I sat in the uncomfortable silence of strangers it finally struck home that I would be existing in discomfort for the next month and a half. A bit excited, a bit terrified, I was on my way.

After the disaster with the Girona/Barcelona flight, I have very little belief of self efficacy with directions and general navigating abilities. For the journey to my hostel, I asked people every step along the way – only to realize that everyone had something different to suggestion. I finally just followed the map, and MADE IT NO PROBLEM. This was a navigating victory that my self confidence desperately needed. I also enjoyed speaking Spanish – which to my surprise I was able to quite effectively. Three years and a summer in Barcelona equiped me with language skills, but my abilities are just a taste of what actually communicating in spanish entails. There is a sweetness of speaking a foreign tongue, and I might just try to study spanish again to continue savoring the language – why did I stop studying Spanish?

In Granada during my two days I enjoyed visiting the Alhambra and getting miserably lost in the moorish quarters. It was an old defense strategy to make the town difficult for foreign invaders to navigate- and I must say that the city planners did a fantastic job at that. I also visited all the free cathedrals, explored the jewish quarter, enjoyed some sun in a public garden and visited the St. Augustin market and left with my backpack filled with fruit. See photos of the beautiful Alhambra and other snapshots of Granada HERE.

The Alhambra

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I went exploring and got miserably lost and found an apartment rental office to go ask for directions. Behind the desk was a guy about my age working who then offered to give me a tour of the apartments gardens, where I saw possibly the best view of the Alhambra in town:

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I naively thought that the tour was just out of kindness then he gave me his business card and asked me to dinner. I didn’t end up calling him that night but his invitation was the first of many for the summer – you become very easily approachable when traveling solo. This comes as a huge blessing and opens up many great opportunities to meet people, but is also something that all female travelers need to keep their wits about.

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On the night of my second day I went on a walking tour with the hostel where we hiked up a mountain to see Roma (gypsy) homes. Please read my post about “Gypsy” Europe to gain a better understanding of the culture, political correctness regarding the Roma as well as some safety precautions that all travelers should keep in mind.

People live in caves and come from all over the world. This is my one and only photo from the hike through the “gypsy” village because I didn’t want to be rude photographing people’s homes, but I hope that it gives an idea of the conditions of the houses and general quality on life that we walked through and that people and even full communities live in:

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View from the top of the mountain:

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After the tour, Oladai, a boy from Jordan, and I decided to go to a flamenco show. The hostel recommended a place that was very cheap, and we headed off to the venue which translates to “The Andalucian Dog.” Inside, we squeezed into what appeared to be a wine cellar and sat on stools with the rest of the audience. Everyone was young and speaking spanish – so it seemed like we were in a legitimate venue for flamenco. There is a large gypsy quarter in Granada that has been there for hundreds of years and is considered the “heart” of flamenco – and the show we saw reflected the passion and talent Granada has for flamenco.

The plan was to go out after the flamenco show…but I did not feel up to it. Instead Oladai and I went to a viewpoint to see the Alhambra at night and headed back to the hostel. I thought I was hungry as I went to sleep, but when I woke up in the morning I had stomach pain that indicated something way worse than hunger.

I was on the second bunk and I lunged from my bed, hit the floor and started running to the bathroom. I made it halfway there, and instead vomited into a trashcan in the middle of the courtyard. It was 6am so I was the only one around, but I’m sure I must’ve woken someone up with the awful, deep stomach sounds of vomit.

I could tell that I was in for a very, very long day. At 11:45am I was supposed to catch a train to meet up with my friend Peter in Sevilla. At 11:45am I instead found myself passed out in a hammock with a trashbin nearby.

I’d like to say the hostel did a good job taking care of me – this is not true. Oladai found me in the hammock and made me tea, another girl offered to get me water, and another friend came to sit on the hammock next to me to keep me company but he quickly disappeared after I started vomiting again. Three staff members were at the hostel, and they were more concerned with me moving out of the room by noon than with me feeling alright.

I asked for a private room – one hostel worker said he’d check but I watched him head back to the bar instead. When I was moving out I had to carry a trashbin with me and my big pack by myself down the stairs in the hot afternoon Southern Spanish sun. I took refuge under the stairs in a small nook – dragging my trashbin, backpack and mal cuerpo under the stairs. Even through the miserable illness, I laughed at how I was like a “sick monster” hiding under the stairs. I was barely visible to anyone in the courtyard, but I’m sure my monstrous noises were very audible.

I finally got fed up of being sick and I went up to the counter and demanded that they find me a private room. It was about 5pm at this point and my illness was relentless – I was not going to make it to Sevilla that night as planned. Turns out, there was a private room open in the same hostel. I got incredibly bossy and in Spanish said “I will go upstairs now, give me the keys. You will bring up my backpack and bring me a water bottle.” There was no por favor in the demand.

Up in the private room, the cleaning lady came in to make the bed. She was friendly and seemed motherly, and honestly that’s exactly what I needed. I asked her if she needed help cleaning, and she told me to sit down and relax. We then got to chatting about how I was sick and I said that I wanted my mother. This got her going – she went and got me a tea, brought in extra pillows and ended up laying down with me in bed, talking in Spanish the whole time to comfort me.

It was exhausting to keep up the conversation in Spanish with her, but having someone care enough to lay down in bed with me was a huge blessing and I could not be more thankful for this crazy cleaning lady. Translation errors aside, I am nearly positive that she talked to me about how difficult it is for her to have a husband in Spain and another husband in Ukraine. She was the most bizarre and most perfect medicine at that moment for me.

Falling in and out of a feverish sleep, I was able to enjoy watching the sunset from my window over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I’m now on a train heading to Sevilla, it has been about 30 hours since I’ve eaten anything but I am feeling much better and am hoping that this will be the only illness I face for the rest of the trip!

I’m happy that this challenge arose early in my traveling adventure. If I can make it through puking under a stairway for hours, then I can make it through just about any challenge this trip has in store.

A New Mode of Transport

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One of the joys of travel is the many modes of transportation you find yourself on: airplanes, trains, busses, the back of a camel, the back of a van…

On the day Marta’s father was going to pick us up from their beach house, his car unexpectedly broke. Because Casey had a plane to catch, he cleverly considered another option: using a company car.
When he rolled up to Roc de Gailleta to pick us up, we looked at each other with disbelief and uncontrollable laughter – our hour ride back to Barcelona was going to be a unique one.
Here’s the van:
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After our paella lunch on the beach we waved goodbye and climbed into the back of the van and then surrounded by darkness when the doors were closed.
Her parents packed camping lights and some newspaper for us to sit on. For One hour we jolted, rolled, laughed and sometimes felt sick in the back of a pitch black van. When we arrived to Barcelona people stopped to stare as five people climbed out of the back of a van. We made it, and I think we would all agree that one ride is enough but also a ride that we will remember forever and laugh about.
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BarcaLOCALna (A bad pun but a trip to Barcelona with a local nonetheless)

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As Annie, Casey and I left Maastricht en route to Spain, our best friend, Marta, was waiting to welcome us to Barcelona.  We had no idea how hysterical the journey to get to Marta was going to be.

The laughs started with our airport shuttle from Maastricht to Brugge. It was so cheap, we should’ve know there was a catch to the deal. There should have been no way that a van would bring us directly from Maastricht to the Brussels Airport for that price. The “airport shuttle” ended up being an old man who spoke no English in a private vehicle – but we made it there just fine and on time!
During check-in, I pointed to a sign that said Gerona and joined the Gerona line to travel to the Girona, Barcelona airport. The other two made fun of me for standing in the wrong line, so we switched over to the Barcelona line and proceeded to our gate.
As I was entering the plane, the flight attendant stopped me. She said I was on the wrong flight. Apparently, my two friends and I booked different flights to Barcelona, and mine was going to a different airport. We had no time for goodbyes or to make plans because my flight left just minutes after I turned around from the other plane. I made it onto my flight, and sat in a row with strangers instead of my friends.
Besides some chistes, the flight disaster didn’t turn out as potentially devastating as it could’ve been. Marta’s boyfriend, Mark, and his friend picked me up from the airport and we joined the others at Marta’s house for a fantastic paella welcome lunch (albeit a very late lunch due to my late arrival).
Marta’s family is charming – and speaks no English. In my flurry to tell them thank you I jumbled out my high school spanish and somehow managed to get the message across with much laughter and a few confused eye brow furrows.
I spent a lot of time speaking with Marta’s mother. All through high school I studied Spanish but never really enjoyed the classes nor was I particularly good at Spanish. But, placed into a Spanish speaking house for a week, I’ve been able to get along just fine. Languages are frustrating to learn but are such a pleasure to have. When language levels are intermediate, like mine, communication flows but absolutely includes a few hysterical translation issues.
For example on day 1 Marta’s mother asked me if my shoes were comfortable in the heat because they were boots. I immediately took off my shoes, Marta entered the room and asked what I was doing. In Spanish, I apologized for my dirty shoes – we then realized there was another translation error because she had no idea why my zapatos were off. I ended up making a joke of it and throwing them out onto the porch.
Our first night, in typical Spanish time, we headed to the Discoteca around 2am. The Discoteca, called Razzmatazz, is a quintessential club that is famous for its size – five massive rooms all with different DJs including a DJ in the bathroom. Marta had put our names on the list of a prestigious beach club in Barcelona, but after our long tapas dinner with many drinks we somehow ended up deciding on Razzmatazz instead. Which, unlike the other club, doesn’t have a guest-list and instead lets everyone in. This turned out to be the most hysterical crowd I’ve ever encountered, and we all had a blast making new friends and enjoying the evening with our Maastricht crew in Barcelona.
Arriving home at 5:30am we took a few hours of sleep then went to the city. A must eat for lunch is Vienna – a sandwich shop on Las Ramblas. Since a NY Times columnist declared the ham sandwich the best sandwich in the world, the small sub shop has been in the international sandwich spotlight  – and it should stay right there on center stage. Jamon cerrano, tomaten spread on the queso pan – deliciouso! Absolutely, un sandwich major de todos sandwiches en el mundo!
Walking around a city with a local is the best way to see a city, and Marta loved to show off BCN. She was so proud of every street sign, every building, every person – we learned a lot and enjoyed watching our friend light up. She is so Catalan – in Maastricht we didn’t hear her speak Spanish very often, so it was a lot of fun watching her communicate and exist within her own culture. We spent the afternoon walking Barcelona, touring Parque Guelle and loving each other’s company.
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That night, we ate another dinner with Marta’s family and continued to celebrate Annie’s birthday. Marta’s mother showed me her quilts that she made and I put out the standard “Que magnifico!” Spanish words I knew.
6am the next day we headed to Roc de Sant Gaieta to stay at Marta’s beach house.
The view from Marta’s patio:
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We feasted on fruit for every meal and basked in the sun. The waves were massive, so we had many a failed body surfing attempts. Our nights were spent playing cards and laughing about exchange semester stories. We had no Internet, but we had each other and the beach, which is way better.
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Gardens divided the different beach apartments
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THE WONDERFUL FONT FAMILY!
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Click here to read about the journey from Roc de Sant Gaieta back to Barcelona.

First Post On The Road

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part II, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

It has been two weeks since I’ve left Maastricht. Two weeks since I picnicked with friends under the overcast but lovable Maastricht skies, two weeks since my bicycle handlebars rattled my hands while riding on the Vrijtof cobblestone. Two weeks since I (embarrassingly) cried at the final party saying goodbye to the faces of foreign countries that had become my best friends over the 6 months I spent in Maastricht. It has been an impactful six months, and I’ve emerged as a totally different person from the girl who stepped off the airplane in January. Cheers to Maastricht, and now onto part two of my adventure: Two months as a vagabond traveling around Europe.

A basic itinerary:
June 15-20 BARCELONA (with Marta, Annie, Casey, Kate see Laura, Jaume, Santiago)
June 20-23 GRANADA
June 23-25 SEVILLA (meet with Peter)
June 26-27 MADRID
June 27 PAMPLONA (meet with Theresa)
June 28-29 HARO (with Theresa) for Batella de Vino Festival
June 30-July 3 VENICE (meet with Gil)
July 4-10 CROATIA (meet with Kate, Phish, Shopvy, Jimmy in Dubrovnik July 7)
July 11-12 BELGRADE
July 12-19 SOFIA and roadtrip through BULGARIA (Meet with Dilyana, Cami)
July 20-? BUDAPEST
? Prague
? Vienna
? Bratislava
? Travel back through Germany to Amsterdam
August 8 FLIGHT TO CHICAGO (hello family :D)
My schedule is flexible and constantly changing because I am on a Continuous Global Eurail Pass. This pass allows me to hop on and hop off trains and travel around with little obligation to pre-reserve tickets and have set destinations. I’m loving the freedom this pass gives me, and I HIGHLY recommend anyone traveling Europe to look into traveling with a Eurail pass. Train stations are much better located than airports, and it is much more convenient to ride a train than go through airport security etc.. Also, traveling via train is still travel because you get to watch countries, small towns and life go flashing by the window. I’ve been on the road for only two weeks and I’m over halfway towards paying the cost of the pass off, so it is an economical and convenient travel option.
A few things to note: I chose to backpack on my own and it is working out to be one of the best decisions of the trip. On Facebook I created a group WHERE IN THE WORLD https://www.facebook.com/groups/473880139359236/ and added all my friends both from exchange and home that I knew were traveling. On the group, we all posted our basic summer routes. This has helped facilitate people meeting up all over Europe and is the reason I saw Peter in Sevilla, and will meet up with friends in Croatia.
Backpacking alone has always been my plan, and I’m quickly realizing that the “alone” part doesn’t really happen. Click here to read about why I’ve spent less time alone because I’m alone. At the end of my trip I’ll post about “The Coolest People I Met On The Road.” Also check out “The Ten Types of People You See at Hostels.”
Another note: I am working from an iPad on the trip and am finding it difficult to post photos on the blog. I’m trying to figure out a solution, but I might just end up posting only text then coming back and filling in photos later. I apologize for this and I hope that readers will return and look over the blog again mid-August when posts are cleaned up and more complete! As for now, I am enjoying traveling and am just posting extremely raw, unedited, photoless posts that I will then return to and refine when I’m back home and have more time to dedicate to the blog.
A final note: HUGE THANK YOU TO MY PARENTS who have encouraged me to travel and always push me to try new things. Traveling alone is scary, and it is a testament to their parenting and endless compassion and encouragement that I have the self-efficacy to go on this adventure. When my mom was 21, she also backpacked Europe and wore small gold hoop earrings. Those earrings have been passed down to me, and I am proudly wearing them for their second tour around Europe. She and my father understand how impactful a trip like this is, and I will be forever grateful that they have gifted me with this opportunity to experience all the greatness of life.
I’ve asked my mom to write a post from the parents perspective about sending their child abroad. You can READ HOLLY PAYNE’S post here (when she writes it.)
Read all my travel stories, inevitable trip disasters, fun people encounters, new cultural experiences and all the surprises that will fill my next two months backpacking under Blogs —> Pt. 2 VAGABOND.
Cheers! Reagan

Company Visit to IBM

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Short term travel can end up having a certain element of hedonism. On vacation, efforts are put into total self enjoyment. I’m in Europe for eight months, this is no short term vacation, so hedonistic travel is not going to cut it for me. I need to learn, to experience, to grow and to find fulfillment through elightening activities – which is why I was so lucky when the opportunity to visit IBM formed.

My fantastic aunt Susan gave me her friends’ contact information who works at IBM Brussels. I contacted her and from there we set up a date for myself and other Maastricht students to attend a tour of IBM. Surprisingly, I had difficulties finding students. In total, 7 of us ended up attending. To find these seven people I invited the executive boards of the few major business organizations so the small group that attended was a great group of highly interested students. For the train ride there I printed off some documents to pass around so once we arrived at IBM everyone had at least a basic knowledge about the company and many thoughtful questions resulted!

We were welcomed into the client center of IBM and enjoyed a meeting/presentation with both Ivo and Tine. The presentations were mostly about different aspects of IBM and about the history of the company, the nature of the industry, the future of IBM and personal information about their careers. I really enjoyed hearing Tine talk about the specific projects she is involved in – especially knowing that her education background is Chinese studies. As a students balancing journalism and business, I have no idea what exactly I want to do as a career, so it was refreshing to hear someone who  majored in something totally different from her job talk about the projects she works on with so much enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment of her job.
After the presentations we toured the client facility and learned about different projects, including Watson! Learn more about the Watson Project
We then rejoined Tine and Ivo for a lunch in the IBM cafeteria. This was a fantastic part of the day because we got to ask questions in a less structured/formal setting. The conversation topic shifted from IBM focus to general industry focus to career advice. Many students in the group had just graduated from university and I think the career advice part of conversation was especially beneficial for them.
When I find more time I want to extend this post into more details about everything I learned, but for now here is a taste of the day and a photo of the group with our hosts. Thanks to Tine, Ivo and Susan for making this experience happen!
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A Tale of Two Cities: Berlin and Paris

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Paris is romanticized in countless novels, songs, and films like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.  As a world audience we have come to form an inflated idea of the city, the sites, the culture, and subsequently as travelers we roam The Avenue des Champs-Élysées with the highest expectations of being inspired by our surroundings.

Travelers admire the wide avenues and Parisian architecture, much of which can be attributed to Haussmann’s renovation of Paris…in the 19th century. Old art fills The Louvre. Les Miserable, and the spirit of the revolution (Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité!) is now over 200 years in the past. This history is still a treasure to be admired, but it is incredible that Paris has managed to maintain an image of a romantic center of intellects and thinkers with all the bases of this reputation rooting back decades in the past.

Today, Paris is no longer the creative center it was in the past. For one, it is far too expensive a city. As a student, especially a traveling student, it is nearly impossible to afford a proper meal in Paris. How are painters, novelists, philosophers, thinkers and entrepreneurs expected to survive in such an expensive city? The answer: they don’t.

Paris capitalizes on its past; the creative minds have relocated to Berlin. 

Everyone, from every walk of life, can be found on the streets of Berlin. The sidewalks are shared by blue-haired punk-rockers, young German yuppies in suits, dreadlocks, piercings, covered in tattoos, the elderly in greyscale simple clothes, fashionistas, big thick framed glasses. It is an organic city – filled with thinkers and alive with new opportunities. Berlin is a city in transition, a city regaining an identity after its long, turbulent history. It is a city where people can have an impact, and where people go to impact.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the city seems to be in constant flux since. For 28 years Berliners were heavily controlled, and now – Berliners control themselves. The pendulum of history has swung from the tightly controlled Berlin under the Third Reich and the Soviets and is now on the opposite side of the spectrum of total and absolute freedom of expression.

Graffiti covered nearly every square inch of the city, but the graffiti in Berlin has an identity that is entirely different from the graffiti you see in other large cities. Often, especially in times of economic struggle, graffiti marks a city as a desperate cry for political reform or marks buildings as a testament of outrage. Berlin graffiti is not vandalism, it is true art: surrealist paintings, incredible 3D images, and poignant political statements. City streets are like walking through a museum with the artists walking right next to you.

Berlin is a blank canvas, a massive blank canvas, with endless space for people to create and leave their mark. That is what Berliners do – create, and then create again. Think, and then think some more. One person’s graffiti art is covered by another artist, and an endless cycle of creativity ensues. The graffiti in Berlin is just a small snapshot of the giant web of creativity and ideas that define the city. Ideas are almost self-destructive in Berlin – one idea leads to another and everything changes, rapidly. The Berlin you saw yesterday is not the same Berlin you see today.

The openness of ideas in Berlin is a direct response to the Berlin Wall. East Germany is still regaining an identity. While history might be the catalyst behind the now creative identity of the city, the prices make it possible. Berlin is unbelievably cheap. Housing prices are student affordable, and a nice meal won’t cost more than 4 euros. This insanely affordable city attracts people from all over the world, and these ex-patriots quickly become Berliners. There is no definition of a Berliner; the Berlin community is like an island of misfit toys that, taken as a whole, have a bizarre but welcoming charm.

If you want to open a business – head to Berlin, real estate is affordable. If you want to sit in a cafe and think with other intellectuals – you can do so on every street corner of Berlin. If you want to visit a destination that is perfect for young travelers on a budget, save Paris for a later time and visit the dynamic Berlin instead. Students, entrepreneurs, artists, thinkers, lovers of ideas, creativity addicts and impactors – Berlin is your city.

To travel to Berlin is to be inspired.

Screen shot 2013-06-07 at 2.47.05 AMBerlin Wall (East Side Gallery)

Brugge, Belgium

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

With braces, thick unruly hair and a naive impression of the world I traveled to Brugge, Belgium in 2007 with my family. I have fond memories of riding my bike through the cobblestone roads, admiring the gothic architecture from a boat ride through the canals and enjoying beglium waffles with my sisters.

Time somehow manipulates fond memories to make them even fonder. This is the case with Brugge, and I booked my train ticket to the medieval village a few weekends ago with high hopes of a perfect weekend.

Brugge did not disappoint.

Some consider Brugge to be the best-preserved medieval city in Europe with some structures dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries. It has a rich history as a major medieval trade city – learn more about the history of Brugge. The town is connected by cobblestone roads and canals, but tourists can be a frequent roadblock when trying to navigate main centers of the town. The best way to travel around Brugge is to toss the map and get lost – once you escape the main tourist roads the fairy-tale type charm of Brugge comes to life. Getting lost is more fun than worrisome due to its small size and large buildings like the Belfry Tower make it easy to naturally navigate and get back on track.

The Market Square

Last time I was in Brugge I climbed the 366 stairs of the fourteenth century bell tower in the Market square. It provided a great view of Brugge, though I would recommend opting for a different view of the town from the top of the De Halve Man Brewery. For six euros you can tour one of the oldest standing breweries in the world and sample a beer at the end. Belgians are proud of their selection of over 350 different types of beer, and the De Halve Man Brewery tour sheds light on the world of Belgian beer. Plus, at the end of the tour, you get a fantastic view of Brugge from the top of the brewery.

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The tour includes lots of stairs so be prepared to walk and duck through short doorways.

The Begijnhof 

This park is near to the De Halve Man Brewery and is a great next destination after the tour. Go for a walk through the park or do as the locals and enjoy a picnic in the grass.

Groeninge Museum

Strolling around museums has always been interesting to me, but the Groeninge Museum experience was a new level of “museuming.” Gil and I spent hours in this fairly small museum, and I was amused and interested for the entire timespan.

It is always a treat to hear a friend talk about something they are passionate and knowledgeable about. In China, my friend Tim randomly busted out extensive engine knowledge at a Shineray Motorcycle factory. Turns out he worked as an engineer before the trip to China. With Gil, he busted out extensive art knowledge at the Groeninge Museum. He’s from Israel and has been working as a lawyer for the past few years. Turns out he once had a client in Jeruselum and he lives in Tel Aviv. For this client, he would have to take a taxi between the two cities. During these long drives Gil would study art on SmartHistory: a multimedia web book about art and art history and has taught himself a very, very extensive knowledge set about art history. I admire him for using the taxi time to learn, and I’m thankful that much of the knowledge has now been passed to me! Learning is a wonderful experience, and it is even more fun when your best friend is your teacher.

Other Museums 

If pressed for time, I recommend ranking your museum list as follows:

1. Groeninge Museum

2. Memling Museum

3. Chocolate Museum

4. Lace Museum

If pressed for time, I recommend ranking your church visit list as follows:

1. The Church of Our Lady (Michelangelo statute of Madonna and Child)

2. The Basilica of the Holy Blood

Windmills

Very far out of town, but it is a nice destination for a long walk through endless cobblestone streets. Expect to go through more residental areas on the way. Great destination if you’ve rented bikes – the Windmills are also near the College of Europe for any academic people who are interested in seeing a well-respected European University (Dr. Christy, looking at you!)

Throw your diet out the window in Brugge. Endulge in some of the many, many chocolate shops around town. Enjoying a hot chocolate is a must. Belgian waffles – also a must eat. Stroopwaffles are typically Dutch, though I saw some around Brugge – also worth a try. Remember, no diet in Brugge! French fries are a Belgian food, despite the misleading name. There is a Frites Museum in Brugge, though I have never visited it because it seems like a tourist gimmick and a grand waste of time. There are two frites stands in the Markt square, I tried the one of the left and thoroughly enjoyed the frites. Be sure to eat with the mayonnaise sauce! Mussels are a local specialty, and many restaurants have a set price for dinner courses that include mussels. If seafood isn’t your favorite, go for waterzooi – a stew with meat.

TIP FOR STUDENTS TRAVELING TO BELGIUM: Buy the Belgium GoPass. It is a hugely discounted ticket and is worth the extra hassle of booking online. Round trip from Maastricht to Brugge cost me 12 euros with the Belgium GoPass.

My good friend Gil and I decided on a Thursday night to head to Brugge the following Friday. The whole booking process was hasty and somewhat careless. Cheap accomodation, train tickets, pack. It is difficult to mess up a trip to Brugge – the city is small so location isn’t a very important factor. Though, I can HIGHLY recommend the accomodation Hotel Adornes where my family and I stayed years ago.

As a student I am always staying in hostels and cheap hotels. Accomodations are typically just a bed and a place to meet new friends; hopefully a wifi spot and maybe a free breakfast if I’m lucky. While in Brugge for the second time, I actually made the trek just to see Hotel Adornes. It is easily my favorite accomodation that I’ve stay in (this time around, the hotel was our of my price range so we stayed at a much more affordable accomodation.) Hotel Adornes still has a special place in my travel memories. It is one of those locations so closely linked to goodness that it was worth a trek across town just to look at. In Morocco there is a perfect terrace that my friends and I enjoyed tea on. In Missouri there is a perfect spot on the MKT bike trial that I always stop to enjoy. What is better than collecting physical souveniers is to collect spots around the world – places where everything is perfect. Hotel Adornes happens to be one of those places for me.

brugge

It was special to enjoy Brugge first with my family, and then return to the city I love so much with someone I care about. Until next time, Brugge, stay the same and never lose your old town charm!

Morocco Pt. III: The Journey

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We departed on a four day adventure through Morocco that included incredible landscapes, bizarre encounters and lots of laughter. The journey started in Marrakech, we spent a night in the Sahara Desert and finally ended in Fez. This is the itinerary provided by the travel company. Though, our tour guide Abdul took a real liking to our group and often diverted from the path to take us to meet some of his friends along the way and also a special stop at a village that wasn’t part of the tour.

Abdul is a character. We often drove past nomadic groups traveling alongside the road, and Abdul stopped at every group to hand them a bottle of water. Our tour took much longer than it was supposed to with Abdul – but we loved his bizarre decisions to turn down different roads and always stop to say hello to people. We decided that the van we traversed Morocco in serves as Abdul’s Facebook – he has a social network operating around that van. He would hug and kiss people at every stop, and townspeople would literally swarm around him when we arrived places. He kept his music on repeat, so for the whole journey we listened to a special mix tape of arabic music with a spontaneous Rihanna song that would signal that the disc was repeating everytime we heard it. Abdul was totally unpredictable and loved to play pranks. He stole Pat’s shoes and didn’t fess up to stealing them for abut an hour. He would constantly fib about where we were going. He did bizarre things like run over to me and throw a robe and tie a headdress on me:

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He called us a “Moroccan salad” because our group came from all over the world. We called him our “Moroccan spice” because the man was absolutely crazy. But, his crazy was endearing, and his addiction to a good time created unforgettable memories. Here’s the crew with Abdul and the van:

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DAY 1: Marrakech – High Atlas – Telouet – Ait Benhaddou – Ouarzazate
Depart at 08:00 from Marrakesh to Ouarzazate via the High Atlas mountains Tizi n’Tichka pass throughout the high Atlas Mountains range.Visit the Telouet Kasbah and the universal Heritage Site of Ait Benhaddou Kasbah as it has been named by UNESCO in 1987.We’ll pass through Ouarzazate, or what we call Hollywood of Africa since it is a famous destination for filmmakers. Overnight in Ouarzazate.

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DAY 2: Ouarzazate – Dades Valley – Todra Gorges
From Ouarzazate We drive towards Dades Gorges but before we drive along valley of Roses. We get directly to Dades valley where we will enjoy the beautiful green fields of figs and almonds. We will pass through many hamlets and villages along the way before we arrive to Todra Gorges where we will have an overnight in a Kasbah overlooking the river.

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Abdul got all the girls a rose necklace

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In the afternoon we visited a Berber village – a stop not on the typical tour agenda. Learn more about the Berber people. Abdul, who grew up in a Berber village himself, was very proud to take us around this town. We met up with his friend who joined us on the walk around. The Berber people have their own strong traditions, language and culture that differ from the rest of Morocco. Because Abdul is Berber, we got to learn a lot about the culture as well as meet many of his Berber friends. Some consider the culture backwards because it is so distinct and could be perceived as lagging behind modern times, but I found the culture to be the best type of simple and the Berber people to be warm and welcoming.

The people of the region are famous for making rugs. In the middle of this very poor village, we visited this store rich with color and handmade rugs. After this presentation, I stayed behind to help one woman fold up all the rugs again. I was then told that I was worth 1,000 camels :) cultural compliments.

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That night Abdul really pulled out his crazy. We were driving through gorges, and I mean right near the edge of the gorges. To get a better view of the stars, Abdul slammed on his brakes, exited the vehicle and swung open the van door. We all sat with our legs dangling outside the car and held onto each other for safety as Abdul drove with his lights off. It was fantastic – without the lights on we could enjoy the stars filling the sky over the summit of the mountains around us.

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The hotel we stayed at that night was owned by a Berber family, and Abdul was so thrilled with showing us Berber culture that the family got out all their instruments and we had a drum circle with them while singing Berber songs.

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This day, with all its chaos and adventure, will forever be one of my favorite 24 hours.
DAY 3: Todra Gorges – Erfoud – Merzouga Dunes (Erg Chebbi)
From Todra Gorges we start to drive towards Erg Chebbi along arid landscapes and volcanic mountains of the Anti Atlas, before we pass through a town called Tinjedad the nerve centre of the area. We pass Erfoud, it’s very known with it’s fossil’s factories where they make beautiful shapes and pieces from rock of the neighboring mountains. Then we’ll head for the Erg Chebbi Arival to Merzouga Village stop at the Hotel to Drink the ment the and leave and meet your desert Guide then start the camel trek for 2hrs with sunset to get to middle of the sahara desert where you will enjoy your night with local Guides. diner & Overnight at The camp

The Tondra Gorges

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Welcome to the Sahara Desert

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Abdul didn’t go with us to the desert but in the middle of the music and campfire he comes literally dancing out of the dark of the desert. Our group proceeded to dance around the fire with him to the cheers and claps of the rest of the camp. When the circle was over, we grabbed our sisha and climbed to the top of the dune with the three drummers, Abdul and some of the other guides. There is no darkness like desert darkness. We made sure not to wander anywhere alone because even if you were 20 feet from the camp it was impossible to see.

DAY 4: Erg Chebbi – Ziz Valley – Midelt – Azrou – Ifrane – Fes
Morning early we come back from the desert with camel trek for 2hrs the have amazing view of the sunrise then back to the hotel breakfast and taking shower .before We drive towards Fes, we stop on the road to enjoy the panoramic views over the Ziz valley before we cross the High Atlas mountains again. We stop by a town called Midelt where we’ll have lunch. We pass Azrou then Ifrane and its huge cedar wood forest to see the monkeys. We continue to the legendary city of Fes. arrival at 5:00pm

Camels at sunrise

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We finished our trip with a night in Fez. Exhausted, but so thankful for our adventure in Morocco and for the people we got to share it with.

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